Monday, August 23, 2004

A Collection of Thoughts

First, let me begin by apologizing in advance for the length of today’s entry. I’m in the process of moving back to school and everything is a little jumbled right now. I look forward to getting settled in and getting down to business. Today I just want to cover a hodge podge of Twins thoughts I have had in the last couple of days.

Twins Win Again
Johan Santana continues to make his bid for the Cy Young. His dominance continued last night against Texas when he allowed 1 run in 8 innings while striking out 11. His has been so consistent that he must now be considered someone for teams to fear in the playoffs. A starter of his quality can easily make the difference between where the Twins have finished up the last 2 years and a World Series title this year. He is 4th in the league in wins, 1st in strikeouts, and 1st in ERA. When you consider how he started his season in mediocrity his numbers become even more impressive.

Something Twins fans may want to worry about with Santana is that he is also 3rd in the league in innings pitched. He already has surpassed his previous career high of 158.1. It’s safe to say that the 25 year is in unknown territory. My worst fear is that sometime in mid-September he is going to pull up with a tired arm. He has done a marvelous job, being such a horse and saving the bullpen, but there could be a cost. No one can foresee the future though and he has repeatedly defied doubters throughout his career. Also, his pitch counts have remained relatively within reason in all of his starts when he has gone late into the game. Is anybody else worried about this out there, or am I just being a pessimist? Perhaps with the big lead the team will be able to ease him into the playoffs without messing up his streak.

There were a few other highlights from last night’s game. Torii Hunter continued to play like he is ready to be a leader for this team, breaking the game open with a 2 run double in the 6th. Henry Blanco may be a frustrating alternative to Joe Mauer but despite his abilities he continues to play better then he ever has hitting his 8th homerun of the season. Kenny Rogers, who has 1 more win then Santana, was knocked out in the 6th innings. The Gambler really saved the Twins last year and it is good to see him having success in Texas. The Twins could probably use him but no one could have expected what he has done. He didn’t look good last night but along with Ryan Drese is a big reason Texas is playing so well. (I apologize if that sounded like Sid, I’ll try to never do that again!)

Speed Rules!
The Twins have all of a sudden become a very good running team. The past couple of years they have always had potential but it would be very common to see players have a steal percentage of 50%. Now everyone is running with great success. Lew Ford is 16/17, Jacque Jones 12/20, Corey Koskie 9/12, Luis Rivas 13/13, Cristian Guzman 8/13 and Torii Hunter 19/23. Teams are not even throwing the bal down on many plays to second. The team is even aggressively stealing 3rd. This is putting pressure on other teams and really sparking the offense. It makes for a fun game to watch. I know Torii Hunter says it’s the new turf that is making it possible but that cannot be the only reason. What has lead to so much recent success?

Paging a 3rd Starter
Who is this teams playoff third starter? Neither Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva solicit much confidence. Lohse pitched better in his last start but has been terrible inconsistent all year and was shelled in his previous playoff outing. Silva is very unimposing. Imagine him making a start against the Yankees allowing hit after hit with the powerful Yankee lineup driving those runners home. He plays with fire every time he pitches and that is not a formula for success in the playoffs. At this point would Muholland make a possible start? He has pitched very well in his role but come on, he is still 108 years old! He hadn’t even been a starter in 4 years before this one. The Twins might need a fourth starter if their games don’t land on the right day. That will only compound the problem. Right now it looks as if Muholland gives them the best chance to win but it is shaky at best. There are no pitchers out there who are better then these three either. Shawn Estes is a name that has been thrown out and I cringe at the prospect of him even pitching a regular season game for this team. Maybe the team would be better off promoting Baker or Durbin and hope they perform the role that John Lackey did for the Angels in 2002. The 3 man rotation can be dangerous and if Radke or Santana lose one of their games it would be a tough series to win. Teams that are second in the league in pitching should not have to worry about such things, making the performances of Radke, Santana, Nathan and Rincon that much more impressive. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Joe Mays right about now? (I know many of you are cursing his name and probably me for bringing it up but let us throw out money right now because that is a sunk cost. He was hurt last time he was crushed but most people would have to admit that if healthy he is probably a better option then the 3 pitchers in the rotation right now who are doing an admirable job holding it together. The Joe Mays bashing may recommence when next we talk about payroll for next season or why we did not add any big contract during this one.)

I’ve said it before but we are definitely living in one of the best times to be a Twins fan. I want to know what people are thinking about the team. Feel free to drop a comment below about any topic including the ones I talked about above. As always you can reach me at In the meantime the greatest week every has spread into a second week.

(Twins Edition)

Even though the Twins may not be mentioned alongside Britney Spears, Bobby Brown, and Paris Hilton on the VH1 hit show “The Best Week Ever”, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had a better seven days than our very own Minnesota Twins. Last Saturday, the Indians had trounced the Twins for the second consecutive day and looked poised to completely erase what was once a six or seven game lead in the AL Central. But Terry Mulholland came through with eight strong innings and Corey Koskie broke out of his season-long slump in a big way as the Twins won 4-2 in 10 innings. From last Sunday through yesterday, here is what the Twins have done:

Win-Loss Record: 6-1
Team ERA: 2.81
Team Batting Average: .308
Team OPS: .918
Runs: 49 total (avg. 7 per game)
Stolen Bases: 10 in 12 attempts (83%)
Lead in Division: 7 games (previously 1 game)

However, the Twins dominance goes beyond mere statistics. To fill out this post, I’d like to draw your attention to what I consider the five most important developments to have taken place during the week that was:

1. Kyle Lohse pitches seven strong innings to defeat Cleveland 5-1 on Friday.
We all know that, come October, Brad Radke and Johan Santana will be ready to against the Yankees, Athletics, Angels, or whomever else the Twins may find themselves up against in the ALDS. But one of the key weaknesses on this team (besides an inconsistent lineup) is its lack of a true #3 starter. As I’ve stated on numerous occasions in this space, Carlos Silva has performed admirably in his first full year as a starting pitcher, but he should not be counted on as more than a slightly above-average #4 guy. He’s simply doesn’t have the stuff to beat a good team come crunch time. Lohse, on the other hand, has that ability. He’s shown flashes of brilliance the past two seasons, but those flashes have been few and far between thus far in 2004. A 5.26 ERA on August 22 doesn’t lie: Lohse has been pretty bad overall. That’s why Friday’s performance was so encouraging—Lohse allowed just three hits and one run to one of the game’s most potent lineups. The Twins were four games up at the time, but still needed to get out to a good start and squash those young upstarts from Ohio. Lohse wasn’t perfect by any means; the Indians missed more than their fair share of hittable pitches early in the game. But Kyle did pitch much better as the game went on, and hopefully that start was the turning point for the young righthander. His team’s playoff fortunes may rest upon his shoulders.

2. Corey Koskie hits a game-winning two-run home run off Rick White the 10th inning last Sunday
You could make a very valid argument that this was the play that made “The Best Week Ever” even possible, and you’d probably be right. The full story has now become a part of Twins lore: Koskie commits an error and strands five baserunners by striking out twice in clutch situations, all in the game’s first five innings. He vents his frustrations on a chair in the clubhouse and promptly collects three hits in his next three at-bats, including the game-winning homer in the 10th. The Twins escape Cleveland with a much needed win and are still alone in first place. And so on. But the fact remains that incident, Koskie is hitting .462 with 5 homers, 9 RBIs, and has a mind-boggling 1.506 OPS. He’s been the team’s best hitter during that span (obviously) and is a big reason why the offense has experienced its recent renaissance. Maybe the Twins should re-sign Koskie after all…

3. Brad Radke pitches seven tremendous innings as the Twins beat the Yankees 8-2 on Tuesday
Although this game didn’t hold as much significance in the division race as any of the games against the Indians did, it was a HUGE win for the Twins. Seemingly every news outlet in the country was broadcasting the fact that the Twins hadn’t beaten the Bombers in the regular season since 2001, and with the team having lost six of its last eight, it didn’t appear that the streak would end anytime soon. But Radke was truly vintage Brad Radke that night. He located his fastball impeccably, fooled the A-Rod-less but still-powerful Yankee lineup with his devastating change-up, and got the big outs when he needed them most. Koskie and Morneau hit two mammoth homers and Shannon Stewart went 3-4 as the offense finally burst out its self-imposed protective bubble. With that monkey off their backs, the Twins could focus on doing something else they hadn’t done in 3 ½ years: take a series from the Yanks.

4. Shannon Stewart leads off with a home run and the Twins never look back in a 7-2 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday
“Okay,” you tell yourself, “The Twins beat the Yankees once. Big deal. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…” Well anyway, it was the Yankees and their fans who were shamed on Wednesday, as Johan Santana checked off yet another team on his “To Dominate” list. Stewart’s homer set the pace for another laugher. Guzman had a clutch double and Koskie continued his hot hitting. I cheered my head off along with almost 42,000 other people as the Twins beat the Yanks for the second straight day.

5. Torii Hunter caps off a 10-pitch at-bat with a three-run double against C.C. Sabathia as the Twins complete their sweep of the Indians at home
There is no doubt in my mind that Hunter’s at-bat against Sabathia in the sixth inning of yesterday’s game was the BEST at-bat any Twin has had all season long. Up 4-2, Hunter comes to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Lew Ford had just popped up on the first pitch (the antithesis of a good at-bat) and the Indians were on the verge of escaping a very dangerous situation. Hunter quickly fell behind 0-2 but was able to lay off the next three pitches, working the count to 3-2. He then proceeded to foul off four consecutive 95-97 mph fastballs from Sabathia, no small feat in itself. But on the 10th pitch of the at-bat Hunter crushed an outside fastball and barely missed a grand slam, settling instead for a three-run double high off the baggie in right. That hit put the Twins up 7-2 and essentially dashed any comeback hopes the Tribe may have held. Sunday’s game was as important for the Indians as last Sunday’s game was for the Twins: Cleveland desperately needed to win one of three to stay within striking distance in the division. Instead, the Indians are riding a seven-game losing streak and stand seven games out. To make things even worse, the Yankees are coming to town and they will be out for blood. The Indians most definitely have their work cut out for them.

Well, there you have it: the top five moments of “The Best Week Ever” as chosen by yours truly. It certainly was a great week to be a Twins fan, but as Master Yoda once said, “Mindful of the future, you must be.” The Twins need to parlay their recent successes into road victories against Texas and Anaheim or all will have been for naught. It’s gonna be a tough upcoming week for the Twins, but I’m confident that they can handle it.

Thanks for stopping by the site today, and I hope you enjoyed this column. If you’re in the mood for some more Twins chatter, check out the running game summary below that John posted yesterday in his triumphant return. Also, if you have any other favorite moments from “The Best Week Ever” feel free to share them with the rest of us in the comments section. Take care, everybody.